Injuries plague defensive line

Junior Scott Ekpe will miss the rest of the season with a leg injury.

Minnesota defensive lineman Yoshoub Timms walks off the field after an injury  on Thursday, Aug. 28 against Eastern Illinois at TCF Bank Stadium. Timms is one of three players that left the game injured Thursday.

Amanda Snyder, Daily File Photo

Minnesota defensive lineman Yoshoub Timms walks off the field after an injury on Thursday, Aug. 28 against Eastern Illinois at TCF Bank Stadium. Timms is one of three players that left the game injured Thursday.

Grant Donald

The Gophers’ defensive line took a major hit during Thursday’s season opener against Eastern Illinois — three players went down with injury.

Head coach Jerry Kill said junior Scott Ekpe will be out for the season with a leg injury. Kill did not reveal a timetable for the injuries suffered by junior Alex Keith and redshirt sophomore Yoshoub Timms.

“[Keith and Timms] are not lost for the season, and we’ll see how this week progresses with them,” Kill said.

Ekpe made his first career start Thursday but suffered the injury before he recorded a statistic. He had 19 tackles in 2013, including one tackle for loss.

Keith had a breakout performance Thursday, recording four tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries before leaving the game in the third quarter.

“It’s their job to get healthy and get better,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “Right away we just looked at [who are] the next best people we can put in there.”

As of now, it seems like the best players available are a trio of true freshmen.

Steven Richardson, Gaelin Elmore and Andrew Stelter all saw time Thursday, and Kill said they will play again Saturday against Middle Tennessee State.

“Those young kids, we don’t have any other choice. Throw them in there, they’re more than capable of getting it done,” Claeys said.

Redshirt junior Robert Ndondo-Lay could also see time on the defensive line this weekend. He joined the Gophers last year after playing for two years at Division II school Winona State.

Moving forward, Minnesota will still have experience on the line with redshirt senior Cameron Botticelli, redshirt junior Theiren Cockran and senior Michael Amaefula.

Amaefula didn’t play Thursday because of a leg injury, but Kill said he will be ready to play Saturday.

Botticcelli said the second- and third-string players are prepared for time on the field.

“[The backups] are chomping at the bit to get on the field and make a difference, and I don’t think you are going to see much drop-off,” Botticcelli said.

Jones starts school

The Gophers’ top recruit from the 2014 recruiting class started classes Tuesday.

Jeff Jones had to attend summer school after failing to receive a qualifying ACT score. He is currently ineligible to practice with the team.

Jones met with Kill on Tuesday morning before classes.

“Hopefully he’ll be practicing in the spring,” Kill said. “There’s certain things that I won’t mention — how the NCAA works and all that. But [we’re] cautiously optimistic to see how that works out.”